Democrats took aggressive social distancing action to combat coronavirus, but they’re throwing their arguments out the window when it comes to rioting and protesting. That contradiction is growing and is increasingly dangerous to them. The longer the protests continue, the more opportunity for Middle America and moderate voters to make that connection and turn on Democrats.
As coronavirus entered America, state and local governments responded with an unprecedented lockdown of society and the economy, leaving almost 43 million people to file for unemployment in the past three months. In the first quarter, the economy shrank 5 percent, and the Atlanta Fed projects it may shrink as much as 54 percent in Q2.
Recovery could take years for many and might never fully happen for some. The effects of lockdowns have been highly regressive, falling hardest on those least able to withstand them: those with the least capital and savings. Amazingly though, despite obvious pain, Americans obeyed the diktats and endured.
In contrast, when protests and riots broke out following George Floyd’s death, government response has often been muted. Looting, arson, property destruction, violent attacks, and killings have all occurred. Yet police, even when targeted, have been “stood down,” and National Guards mobilized belatedly, if at all. Again, the costs have fallen hardest on those least able to afford them. This is to say nothing of the tyrannical authorities’ sudden silence on mass gatherings.
Just as there has been a clear contradiction between responses, there has also been a clear correlation. Democratic governments, the most hands-on when it came to coronavirus, have been the most hands-off when it came to rioting.
According to a May 21 Wall Street Journal report, when the country was slowly reopening, 19 states retained comprehensive or some restrictions on business and travel. Fifteen of these had Democratic governors. Of the four that did not, three had Democrat-controlled legislatures. Only one state, Ohio, had a Republican trifecta.
Of the five states with comprehensive restrictions, Democrats controlled both the governorship and legislature. The bluer the state, the harsher the shutdown.
In contrast to this coronavirus stringency, there has been laxity in response to rioting. The cities with the most severe and prolonged riots — New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Seattle — are all Democratic bastions, often in Democrat-controlled states.
In Minneapolis, where Floyd died and the riots started, the mayor, city council, and police chief are all Democrats. In Minnesota, the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general are Democrats. Blue jurisdictions have had lax responses.
There is also a qualitative disconnection in the government response.
With coronavirus, government has been aggressive to excessive. When business owners have attempted to reopen ahead of government timelines, many have faced harsh responses. Government actions and reactions have been aimed at normal activities by otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Meanwhile, government has been permissive to passive (at least initially) with protests. Here, government action has not been taken against people gathering en masse in violation of health orders, even when some of those protests turned to violent riots, with actors breaking the law in the most egregious fashion.
The danger Democrats increasingly face is that Middle America and moderate voters will see these increasingly stark juxtapositions too. People like them — law-abiding business owners and their customers — adhered to onerous government restrictions to shut down normal operations, and after weeks and months of financial hardship, people have been jailed for trying to resume it.
In contrast, people who do not share moderate voters’ values can riot seemingly at will. This most egregious of illegal activity is ignored or condoned.
The repercussions of such a voter recognition could devastate Democrats in November.
Middle America provided Donald Trump his upset win over Hillary Clinton in 2016. From 2012, Trump flipped Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — a total of 99 electoral votes, well over a third of the 270 needed to win. Moderate voters accounted for 39 percent of all voters in 2016 and broke 52-40 percent for Clinton — and she still lost. Democrats must flip Middle America and hold moderates to win in November.
Democrats’ recent contradictions accord with the left’s growing ascendancy in the party. For well over a year, contenders in the Democrats’ crowded presidential field have fought their way left, self-consciously away from the center, to appeal to their dominant wing.
When most people call 911, they hope the police come, not Antifa. People also need to know that when government can’t make exceptions for businesses to open and churches to gather, allegedly because of public health concerns, authorities won’t then encourage giant protests.
For this reason, Democrats need protests to end now — yesterday actually. The longer they last, the worse Democrats look, and the greater the likelihood that Middle America and moderate voters make a connection from current chaos, to coronavirus, to leftward campaign content — and break with Democrats.